Title: Stella Glow
Publisher: Sega | Atlus
Developer: Image Epoch
Release Date: 11/17/2015
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of review.
Stella Glow places the player in the role of a young man named Alto, who has lived the past three years of his life without any memories of his past. But when the peace of his sleepy hometown is threatened by Hilda, the Witch of Destruction, and her band of monsters and other lowlifes Alto awakens to a hidden power and must use it to defend the world from its eventual destruction. From here, he is drafted into the local knight brigade and tasked with finding the four witches who, when assembled, can sing a song capable of countering counteracting Hilda’s nefarious plans.
Now, Stella Glow is one of those RPGs with a story that seems like you’ve heard a million times before. A young hero with amnesia awakens to hidden powers, his best friend turns out to have a profound secret, and a mysterious evil is threatening the world. Stop me if you’ve heard this one! But seriously, for most of its run, Stella Glow’s plot could be interchangeable with that of any other high fantasy RPG and no one likely would care, that is just how generic it can be at times. Sure, the game’s musical motif and focus on witches as characters is unique, if drawn entirely from Image Epoch’s Luminous Arc series, but for everything is does different there are five it does the same.
For example, the monsters here are strictly Dungeons and Dragons material, and consist of the likes of goblins, orcs, smiles, griffins, and dragons, with the occasional human enemy and boss thrown in for good measure. While character archetypes abound that you’ve likely seen a million times before, such as the sword-wielding hero, demure healer, and lovably crude thief or rogue. This sort of repetition is distinctly a bad thing, but Stella Glow makes up for it with its characters, who are likable enough to elevate themselves above the game’s indistinct agenda and can even make the player care about them in time.
This is accomplished primarily through a system similar to Persona 3 and 4’s Social Links, in which the player can interact with party members during periods of time they aren’t off slaying monsters. By doing so, you are treated to a short series of story events featuring the character with whom you’ve chosen to spend your time that help to flesh them out beyond what is glimpsed in the main story. This allows especially minor characters, which is almost anyone in the party besides Alto and his harem of witches, to get their moment in the sun and show off. These segments also give each character special powers and attacks in combat, making it worth it to hang out with even party members you might normally never bother with.
The only real issue I take with Stella Glow’s characters is the design of several of its female characters. While I found most of them to be cute, the character Nonoha, a Ninja, who wears a cardboard box as a mask, wears nothing but an ill-fitting bikini and fishnet shirt for the entire game. There is no reason for this level of fanservice in a game otherwise free of such pandering, save for perhaps Hilda’s outfit, and feels so out of place that I had to sit and wonder “Why?” when Nonoha first appeared on the screen. This is a shame too, as Nonoha is otherwise an exceptional character and quite useful in battle.
In all, in its story, setting, and characters, it is best to compare to the Tales of… series, in that while its characters are interesting and fun, and their interactions humorous and engaging. Beyond that, the story of Stella Glow is none too deep and exists mostly as a vehicle to deliver gameplay and character moments. If you enjoy the game’s characters, and gameplay for that matter, Stella Glow is one of the best SRPGs in recent memory, but those looking for an epic storyline should likely look elsewhere.
Stella Glow progresses in a fairly simple fashion. Your time in the game is divided into chapters, which then are subdivided into Mission Time and Free Time. In Mission Time, the story is advanced via battles and cut scenes, whereas, in Free Time, you can take time off from destroying your foes to chat with party members, as described prior, take on odd jobs, or search the countryside for rare items. Though the latter two of these activities are a waste of time, as they take away valuable time that could be spent increasing the affection rating of your party members, the rest flies by quickly and makes the balance between the two modes of play a breeze. If you don’t enjoy the visual novelesque gameplay, it will soon pass, and you’ll have plenty of time to kill monsters to your heart’s content.
Speaking of battles, Stella Glow uses a combat system much like that of Final Fantasy Tactics, or again, Luminous Arc, in which units stand on a grid of squares and move and attack based on their statistics, such as speed, attack, and defense. There is a bit of an annoying factor here that speed determines the order in which characters act, and thus slow characters are often completely unusable due to how infrequently they are able to move or attack. Luminous Arc also forces the player to use the various witch characters from time to time, which can leave you stranded if you’ve failed to level several of them. This led to more than one lost battle during my play through, and should be noted in any game that it is terrible design to force a character on the player without some auto-level of experience sharing system in place to keep them relevant even without direct use.
If you’ve played any Strategy RPG in the last fifteen years, you’ll be right at home here and up and moving your pawns like a champ in no time. If not, the game offers a fairly in-depth tutorial and even throws out tips on how to use new characters the second they join. Making the entire experience rather accessible even for those new to the genre, making this a good entry point for those who have yet to dip their feet into the deep pool that is SRPGs.
Aside from assailing your enemies with weapons and spells, Stella Glow also offers a unique Song system that utilizes its many witch characters to carry out unique effects. By defeating enemies, the Song Gauge slowly fills up to five times. This energy can then be used to fuel battle altering effects by positioning Alto next to a witch and then using the special “Conduct” command. By doing so, the witch in question will begin to sing, and a unique effect will trigger that remains ongoing for about five turns, or until she is knocked out. These effects range from boosting the party’s statistics, causing damage to every enemy on the map, and even healing all damage done to that point, and are all useful in their own right. But as these things often go, the healing song used by the Water Witch is by the best of the lot and often invalidates all other songs with just how powerful it is. Unfortunately, given the diversity of the other witches’ powers, but there is little that can be done given how few healers the game normally has, and it is only natural that being able to heal your team fully every turn would be more useful than a small boost in attack power.
In the end, Stella Glow’s battle system is par for the course for the genre. But, once you get past just how similar it is to other games in the SRPG genre, it also soon proves itself to be both challenging and varied enough in scope and strategy to set it apart from the pack.. The only quibble I have with it really, is that its aa shame that you will be limited to only five-seven characters per battle for most of the game’s length. As you are often forced to sideline many of the game’s interesting characters simply because there is not room for them in your party, and without an auto level system, they will soon fall behind and become useless in time. A minor problem, really, but one annoying enough to merit mention.
In the end, Stella Glow merits a healthy 8.0/10. It is a good strategy RPG, and likely the best, or second best if you liked Fire Emblem Awakening, title in that genre on the 3DS at the moment and should be more then enough tide fans over until Fate Emblem Fates arrives sometime next year.
Graphics and Art: 6.5/10
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